Publish Date: 
Friday, January 28, 2022 - 11:45

Potent dietary fibre may help halt immune attack in people with diabetes

A plant-based fibre supplement could strengthen and regulate the immune system in those with type 1 diabetes or those at risk of developing it, according to researchers from Monash University, The University of Queensland and University of Sydney.

UQ Faculty of Medicine’s Associate Professor Emma Hamilton-Williams said the study tested a modified dietary fibre and found it changed the gut bacteria and produced important metabolites called short-chain fatty acids.

“We know these short-chain fatty acids are at low levels in people with type 1 diabetes,” Dr Hamilton-Williams said.

“They have fewer bacteria able to ferment fibre from the diet and produce these important metabolites which promote gut health and a strong immune system.”

Lead investigator of the clinical trial Dr Eliana Marino from Monash University showed in previous research the modified fibre supplement used in this study could protect mice from diabetes.

“In type 1 diabetes, we think this altered gut microbiota is one of the factors that accelerates the onset of type 1 diabetes, and once the disease starts these changes in the gut bacteria may make it harder to control blood glucose levels,” Dr Hamilton-Williams said.

More than 120,000 Australians are currently living with the lifelong autoimmune disease and depend on insulin injections several times a day or the use of an insulin pump. In the six-week study, twenty-one adults with long-standing type 1 diabetes took the supplement designed to restructure the gut microbiota and produce short-chain fatty acids.

“We were very excited to find that after taking this dietary supplement, the bacteria in the gut of these people was notably changed and producing lots of the missing metabolites,” Dr Hamilton-Williams said.

“As well as having a restructured gut bacterial community, we found many changes in the immune system of our study participants.

“After they came off the diet, we found their blood immune cells had changed to become more regulated, which is what we want to see in type 1 diabetes because the disease is caused by the immune system becoming too activated and attacking the insulin producing cells in the pancreas.”

Monash University’s Dr Eliana Marino said while glucose control and insulin requirements did not change overall, the participants with the highest short-chain fatty acids concentrations showed the best glucose control after the diet.

"This dietary supplementation could represent a safe and accessible alternative therapy for newly diagnosed or high-risk children with autoimmune diseases in the future,” Dr Marino said.

The research was funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Australia following its selection from a group of innovative research proposals developed through the JDRF and Macquarie Group Foundation Future Research Leaders Program.

The research is published in Microbiome (DOI: 10.1186/s40168-021-01193-9). The first authors include Dr Kirstine Bell and Associate Professor Sonia Saad from the University of Sydney, and Dr Bree Tillett from the University of Queensland.

This article was republished from The University of Queensland. Read the original article.